The line between Georgia O’Keeffe’s childhood in Wisconsin to her death nearly 100 years later is as jagged, complex, colorful, unique, ever- changing and interesting as the vistas outside her final New Mexico homes.
Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Her childhood on a dairy farm, the second of the seven children of Frank and Ida O’Keeffe, was extraordinary in its ordinariness. She played with dolls, did farm chores, went to school. Her mother was the daughter of a Hungarian Count (who ran away from Hungary, then ran back abandoning his wife and daughters in Wisconsin.) Ida made sure that her daughters had art lessons and even when the family moved to the (promised) healthier environs of Williamsburg, Virginia, Georgia’s parents made sure that their children were educated as well as their dwindling income would allow.
Georgia knew at a young age that she wanted to pursue art farther than a proper ladies’ hobby, and attended the Art Institute in Chicago and then the prestigious Art Students’ League in New York City. She spent time as a commercial artist, then several years teaching – but none was satisfying (although it did feed her and keep her in black dresses and sensible shoes.) It wasn’t until she had a style breakthrough when she was about 30 that her future started to come into focus.
She had sent some of her charcoal drawings to a friend in New York who, against Georgia’s wishes, showed them to gallery owner, art photographer, champion of the emerging modern artist, (and not much of a monogamist, if we’re being honest), Alfred Stieglitz, who realized that he was looking at a special talent.
Her breakthrough to a style that was uniquely her own took Georgia from this…
After Georgia quit teaching and moved to New York as a full time artist, Alfred Stieglitz became her mentor, her marketer, her motivator and her man…her fella…her lover…which would have been way cooler if he wasn’t already married with a kid.
Before women could even vote in the United States, Georgia was creating the flowers (which suggested, to some viewers, “female anatomy”) that she first became known for. Georgia, however, was painting *flowers*, not vulvas.
Georgia’s style was a perfect fit for the era when convention was being tossed out the window and women were beginning to exert their independence; she was the right artist at the right time. She was the first female abstract painter, the first female artist to get a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and her paintings made her a very wealthy woman,
Alfred and Georgia lived together, created art together, made Georgia very famous in the art world together, and, eventually, got married. Georgia wanted to travel, Alfred did not…so she traveled. On a trip to New Mexico Georgia fell in love…with the area.
Georgia’s life, and her art, can be divided into four very distinctive parts:
Professional Artist and Alfred’s partner
When Alfred died in 1946, Georgia was almost 60. For the last FORTY years of her life she really didn’t slow down, she was too busy painting skulls, bones and mesas; too busy traveling the world; too busy doing whatever the hell she wanted whenever the hell she wanted however the hell she wanted.
(We love her.)
Georgia O’Keefe died on March 6, 1986 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but her art and her legacy are still very, very much alive.
Time Travel with the History Chicks
There are A LOT of biographies for Georgia out in the world, but we narrowed them down to three that we can recommend (not saying that the others aren’t good, these are just the ones we liked.)
There seems to be quite a lot going on at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico (if you go, can you ask them to make a virtual tour? We love a good virtual tour.)
Georgia’s beloved Ghost Ranch is also open with tours and programs.
Georgia’s art is all over the place, you can find some at Museum of Modern Art in NY City, The Art Institute Museum in Chicago, and the honkin’ big poisonous Jimson Weed at Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Our friends the Bowery Boys podcast on the Armory Art Show of 1913 (episode#147)
We never did decide how we felt about John (Juan) Hamilton, but here’s an article from Harper’s Bizarre about him, see what you think.
And our Pinterest board for this episode! (We have one for every woman that we cover!)
There is only one and it focuses on the relationship between Georgia and Alfred–we thought the acting was very good but the story need more oomph.
And, finally, this is like Beckett’s beloved Fisher-Price village (which only makes sense if you’ve listened to the show.)
And we can’t yet find the episode of Psychobitches with Georgia, but here’s the IMDB page and if you can find it, send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org!